Dec 17, 2009

Roman Festival, Saturnalia

In Rome, where winters were not as harsh as those in the far north, Saturnalia (a holiday in honor of Saturn, the god of agriculture) was celebrated. Beginning in the week leading up to the winter solstice and continuing for a full month, Saturnalia was a time when food and drink were plentiful and the normal Roman social order was turned upside down. For a month, slaves would become masters. Peasants were in command of the city. Business and schools were closed so that everyone could join in the fun.

Also around the time of the winter solstice, Romans observed Juvenalia, a feast honoring the children of Rome. In addition, members of the upper classes often celebrated the birthday of Mithra, the god of the unconquerable sun, on December 25. It was believed that Mithra, an infant god, was born of a rock. For some Romans, Mithra's birthday was the most sacred day of the year.

During the holiday, restrictions were relaxed and the social order inverted. Gambling was allowed in public. Slaves were permitted to use dice and did not have to work. Instead of the toga, less formal dinner clothes were permitted, as was the pileus, a felt cap normally worn by the manumitted slave that symbolized the freedom of the season. 


Debra She Who Seeks said...

Wasn't it Saturnalia that so shocked the early Christians with its vices and debauchery?

mxtodis123 said...

Than, you, Lizzie. I enjoyed reading this.